Who would like to know more about the health benefits of tomatoes even though there is some speculation that because these fruits are members of the nightshade family, they could be toxic? Well, I did some digging and not just in the garden but also to find out what all the commotion surrounding these juicy fruits was. While doing my research on the Macrobiotic Diet, I was alarmed to discover that certain vegetables such as potatoes, eggplant, sweet peppers and tomatoes belonged to a particular family of plant food and that we should avoid eating them.
There were two possible conclusions I found. One was the reasoning behind the nightshade family itself. Let me briefly explain: Unlike most fruits and vegetables that grow during the day, potatoes, eggplant, sweet peppers and tomatoes grow at night, hence the name nightshade. These and other poisonous plant species went a bit further and added the word deadly, and so they became known as the deadly nightshade family.
The reasoning behind this is that these plant foods grow at night, the same time as our bodies also grow. Because we are in a state of rest while our bodies are growing, we should not eat them. In other words, when we are awake during the day, we are using energy and therefore, should only eat fruits and vegetables that also grow at night. Now I know, you'd be thinking: If I work during the night and sleep all day, how is all this going to affect me? So in a way that debunks that issue. After consulting a few people in the know, my only logical conclusion had to come from the plant foods themselves.
So let's look at one of the nightshade fruits, the tomato and see if we can debunk some of the myths that suggested that tomatoes are toxic and capable of causing appendicitis, "brain fever and even cancer. Isn't it ironic that Americans eat more of these fruits, both fresh and processed than nearly any other fruit or vegetable? It's not that surprising either as tomatoes are incredibly versatile and can be useful for everything from sauces to main dishes.
A friend once asked me whether a tomato was a fruit or a vegetable, and when I told him that a tomato is a fruit, he asked me if I would add it to a fruit salad. Good question! I have never considered adding tomatoes to other fruits in a fruit salad. Because most of us think of a plant as a vegetable, we should only add it to a vegetable salad.
Nevertheless, let's look at the benefits of tomatoes. After consulting a member of the Cancer Association of South Africa, I found that tomatoes contain compounds that can help prevent several severe conditions from cancer and cataracts to heart disease.
Tomatoes contain a red pigment called lycopene which appears to act as an antioxidant. That is, it helps neutralise cell-damaging oxygen molecules called free radicals before they cause damage. Until recently, the reputation that lycopene had for healing, was overshadowed by its well-studied cousin, beta-carotene but it now appears that lycopene could have twice the cancer-fighting punch as beta-carotene. It may be good news for men who could develop prostate cancer.
If you were to eat ten servings a week of tomatoes, whether raw, cooked or as a sauce, you could reduce your risk as much as 45 per cent. It might seem like you have to consume a lot of tomatoes, but when you spread them out over an entire week, it's not that difficult to achieve. A single serving is only about a half-cup of tomato sauce which is about the amount of sauce on a slice of pizza and what man doesn't love pizza.
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant, and for some reason, lycopene concentrates in the prostate. So if you were to have high levels of lycopene in your blood, you'd have a much lower risk of prostate cancer. But remember to eat only the red tomatoes and not the unripe green ones as they contain toxins that could cause problems.
The benefits of tomatoes aren't just limited to the prostate gland as lycopene is also a potent inhibitor of breast, lung and endometrial cancer cells. Almost no one reaps more benefits than the Italians who eat in one form or the other virtually every day. And just like the Italians, if you were to eat seven or more servings of raw tomatoes a week, you have a 60 per cent lower chance of developing stomach, colon or rectal cancers than if you were to eat only two servings or less.
Lycopene accounts for at least some of the protective effects. Also, see the Mediterranean Diet as people living in this part of the world tend to have a healthier standard of living. There's also a good chance that getting more lycopene in your diet could help older people to stay active much longer.
Health practitioners and nutritionists may recommend the benefits of tomatoes as a way of preventing lung cancer. And that's because these plants contain two potent compounds, coumaric acid and chlorogenic acid that help block the effects of nitrosamines. These cancer-causing compounds form naturally in your body and are the most potent carcinogen in tobacco smoke.
Until recently, scientists believed that it was vitamin C in fruits and vegetables that helped neutralise these dangerous compounds. But studies have revealed that tomatoes blocked the formation of nitrosamines even after vitamin C wasn't part of the equation.
The protective coumaric and chlorogenic acids found in tomatoes can also found in other fruits and vegetables such as carrots, sweet peppers, pineapples and strawberries. It's because of these compounds that if you eat more fruits and vegetables, your risk of developing cancer would be that much lower. Also, if you happen to be a smoker and you'd like to get some smoking help, you may be interested to know that there are a few solutions.
While citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, tomatoes also contain loads of this potent vitamin which has shown to help relieve conditions ranging from cataracts and cancer to heart disease. One medium-size tomato will provide you with about 25 milligrams or 40 per cent of the daily value (DV) for vitamin C.
Tomatoes are also a good source of vitamin A, a vitamin that's known to boost immunity and help prevent cancer. One medium-size tomato will provide you with about 760 international units of vitamin A, 15 per cent of the DV. A similar size tomato also contains about 275 milligrams of potassium, 8 per cent of the DV.
One medium-size tomato also contains about 1 gram of iron, 7 per cent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for women and 10 per cent of the RDA for men. While the amount of iron is relatively small, your body can absorb it very efficiently when taken with vitamin C, which tomatoes have in abundance.
Shop for Colour. When buying fresh tomatoes, look for ones which are firm but also have the most brilliant red colour. Red, ripe tomatoes can have four times more beta-carotene than any other tomato colour.
Shop for Convenience. You don't necessarily have to buy fresh red tomatoes or those pale imposters to get all the benefits of tomatoes, including their healing benefits. Lycopene can withstand the high heats used in processing, so canned tomatoes and tomato sauce both contain their full complement of this helpful compound.
Cook them a bit. The lycopene in tomatoes is located in the cell walls, so cooking them in a little bit of oil causes the cell walls to burst, releasing more of the healing lycopene.
Have a little Fat. If you eat tomatoes with a little bit of fat such as olive oil, you'll absorb the lycopene much better.
Nutritious as tomatoes are, some people don't like them, and some find them too hard to handle. What I mean by this - Tomatoes can be a common cause of allergies creating symptoms such as asthma and headaches. For some people, the problem with tomatoes is their acidity and eating them may cause stomach upsets or cause mouth irritation.
And it's particularly essential to avoid tomatoes if you're allergic to aspirin. It's because this fruit also contains a chemical compound called salicylates which are the ingredients in aspirin. While you may be aspirin-sensitive and not have a reaction to the salicylates in foods, you could be the exception. Allergic reactions can be quite dangerous, so be sure to check with your doctor to see if you're good to go on this one. Whatever you do, don't eat green tomatoes. All the other colours you can.
Please take note that the information on this site is designed for educational purposes and is intended solely for a general readership. The contents herein are not intended to offer any personal medical advice or to diagnose any health issues you may have. This information is also by no means a substitute for medical care by a licensed healthcare provider. For that, you'd need to consult your medical doctor or a health care practitioner for any advice should you require prescription medication.